Alternate Ending #1

As promised, I’m unveiling two of the alternate endings to FLAWED. Up first, the extended original ending of the book. I think some of you might’ve seen this ending coming… 🙂

Alternate Ending #1
FLAWED | © 2012 | Kate Avelynn

I set Sammy down in the spongy green grass in front of his grandma’s house and tickle his feet. He babbles and smiles, flapping his chubby little arms like a baby bird wanting dinner. Not for the first time, his sparkling gray eyes and tiny dimples make my heart ache, and I have to fight back a wave of panic. Luckily, he’s a cuddle bug and doesn’t freak out when I snatch him up from the ground and squeeze him to my chest.

It happens so often, he’s probably used to it.

I watch him fiddle with the dog tag dangling from the bracelet we gave him the day after he was born. It’s his lovey, the only thing that comforts him, like he and the second dog tag I wear around my neck on Sam’s chain are mine. Most kids have a favorite blanket or a stuffed animal, but we only have dog tags and each other.

Liz wanders across the lawn with a jar of pureed baby food, a rubber-coated spoon, and a bottle of formula. The haunted look in her eyes that hasn’t quite disappeared since the night she showed up at the hospital to find me covered in her son’s blood fades when Sammy reaches for her.

“Come here, sweetheart,” she coos. He almost falls on his face, but manages to grab her fingers and crawl into her lap.

When Sammy’s situated with his lunch, I stretch my legs out in front of me and admire my purple toenails. Last night, after we put the baby down for bed, Liz and I spent a couple hours giving each other pedicures without saying a whole lot. Even though I’m still not completely comfortable with the whole mother-daughter routine, I asked because I needed the closeness and knew she did, too.

Sam and James died a year ago yesterday.

The scars on my legs have all faded to a silvery white that shimmers beneath my golden tan. My flaws. Even though I still remember exactly how I got each one, still dream about my father and towers of beer cans and his leather belt, I don’t hide behind them anymore. They’re part of what makes me me, not something to be ashamed of. Sam taught me that.

Melinda scoots closer and rests her head on my shoulder. “I can’t believe you guys are leaving,” she says in the soft voice I’ve come to cherish. Her almost fearful gentleness reminds me of my mother.

“I’ll call all the time. And you and Jesse can visit whenever you want,” I remind her. “Sammy’s going to miss his Auntie Melinda.”

“Aww, I’ll miss him, too.” She reaches over my lap to tweak Sammy’s little foot. “It won’t be the same, though, you know?”

No, it won’t. Nothing will ever be the same, which is exactly what I need.

“That’s the last of the furniture and boxes,” Alex says. He wipes the sweat from his forehead and smiles. “You guys should be set to go.”

“Thanks, Alex.” I make sure Sammy is still happy with his jar of baby food, then let Alex haul me to my feet and into his arms. Hugging Alex isn’t the same as hugging my brother or Sam, but his friendship has kept me going after what happened last year. Not even the therapists I saw could do that. “I’ll miss you.”

“Of course you will,” he says and wipes away the fat tear that streaks down my cheek with his thumb. “As soon as the mill gives me some time off, I’ll drive down and visit. You and Sammy can show me around town or something.”

We both know he’ll never visit, but I play along. “Don’t wait too long, okay?”

“I won’t.” He snatches Sammy out of Liz’s arms and hugs him to his broad chest. “I’m going to miss you, big guy. Take care of your mom for me, okay?”

Sammy grabs a handful of Alex’s hair with his sticky hands and yanks, babbling happily. My heart aches for the bond they’ve developed that’ll break when we leave. Sammy will miss him, but he’ll forget all of this in a month or two. I’m more worried about Alex, who looked just as broken as I felt when Sammy was born.

He kisses Sammy’s blond head, eyes closed, then hands him back to me. “You ready, Melinda? Jesse will kick my ass if I don’t get you back soon.”

Melinda’s eyes light up at the mention of Jesse. “We’re having dinner with his parents tonight. He’s been really secretive about it, so I’m super nervous. Has he said anything to you guys?”

“Nope,” Alex says and gives me a little smile. Last week, I helped Jesse pick out an engagement ring and, in the back room of Enchanted Garden, listened to him practice his proposal until he could do it without stuttering. Alex knows because I called him crying afterwards.

I follow them to his shiny green bike, the baby on my hip. Even though I’ve ridden on it a million times since that night, I’ll always remember Sam carrying me from the bike to my bedroom, the look in his swollen eyes when he kissed me and said maybe I was the stupid one for loving him.

Loving Sam is the smartest thing I’ve ever done.

Melinda hugs me one last time, tickles Sammy’s cheek, then climbs onto the back of Alex’s bike. He hands her the second helmet he bought for me, revs the engine a couple times, and grabs my hand. The pain in his eyes only makes the panic fluttering in my chest worse. I don’t think I can do this. How am I supposed to say goodbye to one of the few pieces of James I have left?

“I’ll call when we get there,” I manage to say.

“You better.” He kisses me on the cheek and presses his forehead to mine for a second. “Lots of people love you, Sarah. They loved you. Don’t throw that away, okay?”

“I won’t.”

Watching them peel away from the curb and race down the street feels like watching my last tie to Granite Falls snap and fade away. All around us, bugs and dandelion seeds dance on the gentle summer breeze, but I can’t move. Can’t speak. I breathe deeply, taking in the fragrant roses in the yard behind me, the heat of summer, and something unidentifiable that surrounds this house and reminds me of Sam, and tuck it deep inside myself with all my other treasured memories.

I will never forget this place. Not ever.

I press my nose into Sammy’s sweet hair and will my shaking limbs to still. There’s nowhere to go but forward, I remind myself. I’ve spent the last twelve months making sure of it.

Liz climbs to her feet beside me and glances around the same way I did, no doubt remembering the countless stories she’s told me about Sam and his dad playing tackle football in the front yard, hanging Christmas lights in August so they could do it together before the next deployment, and belly flopping onto their old Slip-n-Slide. A house as small as Sam’s shouldn’t be able to hold that many memories, but it does.

At first, James rarely popped up in her stories. I didn’t want to hear those ones. It was easier to hate my brother after what happened than deal with my grief, especially when I found out Sammy was on the way. But Liz forced me to listen to the stories I’d never heard from back when my brother used to play at Sam’s house. Now I’m glad she did. In giving me her memories, she gave me back my brother.

“You ready?” she asks.

I squeeze her hand. “I think so.”

We’re moving in with Sam’s grandparents until Liz can get the newest franchise of Enchanted Garden up and running—something she’s thrown herself into to keep her own nightmares at bay, I think. The house is less than a mile from UC Davis, so she’s been prodding me to apply there next year so I don’t have to take the bus all the way across town to the community college. She has no idea I applied for UC Davis’ botany program six months ago—the same day I got my GED—or that I got my acceptance letter last week. I kept it tacked to Sam’s corkboard right next to his UCLA acceptance letter where I could gaze at it every night before I fell asleep. Now I get to surprise Liz with the news.

My mother would be proud of me, I think. Sam definitely would be.

As we add Sammy’s last minute things to the bags Liz and I packed this morning, I put my little surprise plan into motion. “Sam mentioned a diner by Mt. Shasta that you guys used to stop at on your drives to California.”

“Mmm,” she says, a faint smile on her lips. “He and his father used to eat the restaurant’s whole day’s supply of their blackberry cobbler in one sitting. The other customers hated us.”

“Think it’s still there?”

She gives me a curious look. “Probably. Why?”

I finger the folded up university letterhead in my pocket and try not to smile. “I think I’d like to see it.”